The acquisition of the Chinese ba-constructionby adult second language learners
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe ba-construction is probably the best-known syntactic construction in Modern Standard Chinese, but little has been done on the acquisition of it by second language learners. My study fills this gap. The theoretical framework is Liu's (1997) aspectual analysis of ba. The study is experimental. The constraint on the ba-NP and the constraint on the ba-VP were investigated. The constraint on the ba-NP is that it has to be specific. The constraint on the ba-VP is that it has to be complex. Two of the structures that can satisfy the complexity constraint on the ba-VP, the resultative verb complement (RVC) and the perfective aspect marker le were investigated. The subjects were 65 students learning Chinese in the intensive Chinese program at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California. They were divided into three groups according to the number of weeks that they had studied Chinese at the DLI. A group of 20 native speakers of Chinese also participated as a control group. The study involved two experiments: production and grammaticality judgments. In the production experiment, I designed pairs of actions on video tape and asked the subjects to describe the actions with two Chinese sentences. In the grammaticality judgment experiment, I played some of the video clips from the production experiment and asked the subjects to tell whether some written Chinese sentences accurately described the actions that they saw in the video scenes. I also asked the subjects to indicate their confidence in their judgments. Results were that even though the learners generally produced fewer ba-constructions than the native speakers in the production experiment, their judgments of most of the sentences were not significantly different from those of native speakers, indicating that they had some good knowledge of the construction. Moreover, learners with similar production patterns showed different patterns in their grammaticality judgments, suggesting that the two kinds of data complement each other in our understanding of language acquisition. Results also show that the confidence dimension captured subtle differences that would not have been captured by the grammaticality dimension alone in the grammaticality judgment experiment. It has been found that using the canonical SVO word order and the drop of the object are the two most common patterns used by learners to substitute for the ba-construction. Error patterns have also been identified. Some "unexpected" patterns of grammaticality judgments from native speakers suggest that the learners had not yet been exposed to some interesting phenomena in the language that interfered with the ba -construction. One such example is the topicalization of the object to the position between the subject and the verb. Some native speakers accepted such sentences while most learners rejected them probably because they had not been exposed to such structures yet. Finally, the variation among native speakers in their judgments of the ba-construction calls for a more systematic study of exactly how native speakers of Standard Chinese use the ba-construction, especially those who have been exposed to other Chinese dialects.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Second Language Acquistion and Teaching